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"Spin Catch A Buzz"

They may have an Ivy-bred name, but Eagle Rock, CA's Princeton are more concerned with chamber-pop than condescension. Comprised of brothers Jesse and Matt Kivel, plus longtime pal Ben Usen, Princeton combine the Glaswegian gloom of Tigermilk-era Belle and Sebastian with sublime orchestration and Vampire Weekend's bouncy, lilting rhythmic structures to formulate a sound that will send listeners off to a regal pop Valhalla. Check out the fluttering woodwinds and galloping melody of "Ms. Bentwich." -

"My Old Kentucky Post"

Princeton is an unsigned L.A. band that has been probably the most persistant about filling my inbox with emails over the last couple months. Their latest EP, A Case of the Emperor's Clothes, came in the mail more than a few weeks ago and finally worked it's way to the top of the stack this weekend. Note from the boys: "This record was made with one microphone, one acoustic guitar, a cheap keyboard, three pairs of hands, three sets of vocal chords, and one small egg shaker." So, I finally gave the boys the time they'd been asking for. Good news for them, they were smart to keep bugging me because I actually really liked it!

Princeton is made up of twin brothers Jesse and Matt Kivel along with their friend Ben Usen. They make what I call "good times indie pop"...harmonicas, tambourines, french horns, cello...all those fun instruments, you know? They've just finished supporting dates with Nick Castro and My Brightest Diamond, who I love, so that also caught my attention. Princeton's MySpace (you can find a couple more songs there). - My Old Kentucky Blog

"DIY Rockstar Post"

I got a tip on Princeton a few hours ago, and after listening to some of their songs a few times, I really really like it. Their music is indie pop with a folk-ish twist that brings to mind bands like Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin, Sufjan, and maybe Iron & Wine if there was more edge to Sam Beam… I don’t know, but whatever the influence, it is great music, and I think you will like it.

[MP3] Careless Boy- This is a mellow little song, with a smooth melody and a generally pleasant sound. It has a sweet progression into a superb chorus. For some reason, it reminds me a lot of the song “Hold Me” off of Weezer’s latest CD. I have had this song on repeat for around 3 hours, and I am still not sick of it, if that tells you anything.

Contest: So, now that you know how cool these guys are, you want to go see them live, right? Well, if you said yes to this and like in the Silverlake, CA, area, I have a treat for you. I have two guest list spots to see Princeton along with My Brightest Diamond (Asthmatic Kitty) when they play at the Echo on the 3rd of August.

If you want to win, just either leave a comment here, or email me (blog {@} and tell me why I should let you and a guest see these two great bands live.

UPDATE: Those of you interested in purchasing Princeton’s CD (you do, believe me) you need to email He will take care of you. - The DIY Rockstar

"Both Sides of the Mouth Post"

Happy cows come from California, and it wouldn't be too far off to say a lot of happy bands come from that place too. Last time I told you about Land of Ill Earthquakes, and coming from the same playground is a trio under the name of Princeton. Hailing from the Santa Monica area, Princeton gleefully generate charming indie pop tunes with a finger dipped on the folksey side. If you know me though, the only thing that matters there to me are the words "indie pop," and Princeton produces some great tracks under that niche of a genre. Composed of twins Matt and Jesse Kivel and their good friend Ben Usen, the trio's 7-track release, A Case of the Emperor's Clothes, is currently only being distributed at their shows. Why is that? Turns out this triad is roaming without a label, and with the talent these guys have, anyone care to explain why that's so? But back to their music - call it a (crazy/creepy/crazy-creepy) marriage, but I hear a bit of both Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and Ben Kweller here and there when it comes to these guys. Chances are I'm crazy and speaking blasphemously, but whatever Princeton is concocting, they sure got something right in the mix. Charming and absolutely playful - lend an ear to Princeton...
- Both Sides of the Mouth Blog

"I Am Fuel, You Are Friends Post"

My newest find, thanks to friend Chad (who said that they remind him of what the Zombies might be doing if they were recording today), is a couple of 20 year-olds from California who go by the name Princeton. Clearly these kids listen to some great influences because their music is instantly likeable without being silly. It's simple and catchy, with some great handclap action going on, as well as tambourines, heavenly harmonies, and piano cadences that stick in your head.

Their 2006 EP A Case Of the Emperor's Clothes was made with "one microphone, one acoustic guitar, a cheap keyboard, three pairs of hands, three sets of vocal chords, and one small egg shaker. All of the music produced by this small arsenal of sound was compiled, edited, and recorded in two rather poorly decorated London flats by a set of twin brothers and their best friend."

Thus bringing us to the second best thing about this music -- it was recorded during a study abroad sojourn (!!) which is something near and dear to my heart. While studying abroad at various universities in London, brothers Jesse & Matt Kivel and their pal Ben Usen also performed their music relentlessly in pubs and clubs, recorded the EP, and even got some radio interviews and mentions (Radio Star Fleet London, Smoke Radio). And that's pretty impressive -- the only thing I can boast about doing extremely well while studying abroad in Florence was eating a lot of gelato & drinking more than I should have on school nights.
- I Am Fuel, You Are Friends Blog

"QRO Magazine Review"

It is almost fitting that this Santa Monica to London indie-pop/folk group is named after a town that they seemingly have no connection to. Princeton are three boys from the LA area (two of which are twins), that played together growing up but split apart when college came a-knocking, only to find themselves back together again when they were all studying in the U.K. After performing wherever they could in Ol’ Blighty, even getting a little time on the radio, this threesome has returned to Southern California with their self-released EP, A Case of the Emperor’s Clothes. Those travels have no doubt helped Princeton’s stripped-down guitar/piano/vocals sound, which should seem so familiar and played out, yet they largely avoid the pitfall of being unnecessary.
On A Case of the Emperor’s Clothes, Princeton makes some sad-but-fun songs that don’t feel limited despite using only an acoustic guitar & cheap keyboard (with an egg-shaker and occasional harmonica thrown in). The EP leads off with the standout track, "The Indifference Curve," which manages to be both sad-but-not-whiney and upbeat-but-not-bubblegum. It also has a winsome look back at childhood, which one might only get from two twins and the friend that grew up with them, doubly so if they write it when they’re half a world away from home.

A Case of the Emperor’s Clothes could feel a little like just "The Indifference Curve" single, but the following three tracks go more towards folk, while varying from melodic to sea shanty ("Blackbeard"), keeping the same feel as ‘The Indifference Curve’ without merely repeating. However, that thread is lost on the final three songs on the release, which are overwrought and occasionally dragging. And while only using a few instruments doesn’t restrict Princeton, their recording quality sometimes does, most prominently with the vocals.

When I first looked into Princeton, I was disappointed to find that they seem never to have spent time in my hometown, but A Case of the Emperor’s Clothes can bring me back to the poignant nostalgia of my childhood. These three boys have obviously benefited from the places they have gone, even if central New Jersey is not one of them. While the album is largely hit-or-miss, Princeton hit more often than they miss, and those that land, land true.

-Ted Chase - QRO Magazine

"Breakthrough Radio Feature"

Is there ever a typical day in the life of an indie rock band? While some waste their days in cubicles, waiting for the 5 PM whistle to take off their tie and strap on a guitar, others are playing John Madden football, eating Chipotle, and pondering the technology of a toasted cinnamon sugar bagel. Ah, the life of a college student. Or in this case…the tale of a little band named Princeton.

Don’t get confused. Princeton, the band, is not from New Jersey. In fact, they are from the polar opposite, the sunny land of Los Angeles. The young band, consisting of a pair of twins and their best friend, has made a splash on the blogosphere with their lo-fi addictive indie pop. And while the band may be young (the three members have just turned 21), they are proving that age is just a relative number.

“Our age plays a big factor in how we’re regarded as a band both positively and negatively,” explains Ben Usen, pianist. “It’s always nice hearing comments on how mature we sound for being only 21. But at the same time it is easy for people to throw us into the whole “independent scene” with thousands of people our age in bands who just want to get signed.”

“For some reason people think that we are exceptionally young from our pictures or something, but being 21 doesn’t seem that young,” adds Matt Kivel, one of the twins. “I mean people are in the army at 18, it doesn’t seem like you would need to be any older than that to be in a band. But I think the ‘young’ thing will stop being a novelty in about a year or two…I just wish I could grow some facial hair and prove to everyone that I did In fact go through puberty.”

While balancing school life (each member is at a different college) and band life, the trio found themselves all in the grand city of London in 2005. What resulted was their self-released debut A Case Of The Emperor’s Clothes, a collection of songs recorded with one microphone, one acoustic guitar, a cheap keyboard, six pairs of hands, three sets of vocal chords, and one small egg shaker. It’s the kind of indie pop you find yourself returning to, harboring on classic melodies from the likes of The Kinks, with a youthful edge.

“Most of [the album] was recorded in Ben’s flat in London as well as mine,” explains Matt Kivel. “It was a really fun and relaxed environment. I remember people would come in and out of the room as we recorded and listen to what we were doing. The walls in Ben’s flat were pretty thin so I think everybody who lived there got to hear what we were doing.”

“My fondest memory is recording ‘Blackbeard’ harmonies in Ben's room, drunk,” adds Jesse Kivel. “I told him to listen to them. He was excited. I was excited. Then we played beer pong with all of these British kids.”

It’s impossible to ignore the enthusiasm that Princeton exudes, both as musicians and on record. While in London, the band gained a loyal fan base. According to Jesse, booking shows was a “silly affair,” running around the city, dropping off demos and pretending to be on tour. A favorite show? Playing a pizza parlor. “All of the bands were so friendly and we all got on stage at the end and played Folson Prison Blues,” he explains.

Now back in LA, the band has opened for such noteable acts like My Brightest Diamond and has returned to the daily grind of life of a college student, with a bright future closer than they may think. We caught up with the band to delve a bit deeper into their time in London, their appreciation of blogs, and the next chapter in the band’s life.

I know you all were studying in London in the time, but why did you choose that city?
Jesse: Basically we all suck at foreign languages so that really narrowed our areas of study. In addition, I had been to London before, had a great time, and that always lingered in the back of my mind.
Ben: I wanted to live in a big city, and the English language seemed appropriate. My business school allowed me to take business classes there so I could still graduate in 4 years. And then Matt and Jesse were there so it all made sense. It was the first time since High School that we were in the same place for more then 2 months.
Matt: London is a really nice city, it’s also very expensive. By going there I was hoping to bankrupt myself and my entire family.

How do UK crowds differ from American?
Jesse: There were good nights and bad nights. One pub I remember playing at we booked the gig because Ben's dad was in town and there was literally five people there. When the show ended I felt like crying.
Ben: They are pretty similar, except I’d say they were friendlier. This could be correlated with the fact that everyone at UK venues always had a pint in hand.
Matt: The UK crowds tend to have more classic drunks…guys who wouldn’t leave the bar if it were being demolished around them. Those guys often took to us immediately, whereas the sober people tended to sit quietly just as they do in America. So I guess alcohol helps with crowd participation.

Will you stick with keeping future recordings to a lo-fi, raw sound, or opt for something different?
Jesse: Lo-fi is something that we were forced into because of circumstance. If we could do it over we would have wanted to do more to the recording. But we also enjoy making our own records and using our own equipment, which means no studio and therefore sound quality is sometimes compromised. The goal for the next record is to take a long time and try every idea we have for every song. We want to use string and horn arrangements as well as electronic elements so it is going to be quite different.
Matt: We want to continue honing our own recording space and do the future records on our own. The idea of a large studio is pretty intimidating and I like the idea of living in the same place as I record. We can work at any hour with no restrictions, and hone the sound slowly.
Ben: Future recordings will offer a large variety of instrumentation, experimentation and spankin’ new harmonies, all with a home-recording feel. What I really like about A Case of the Emperor’s Clothes is that it sounds like we are playing right there in the room.

You guys have made your wave on the blogs. Do you readily read blogs?
Jesse: I do read a few blogs daily…Fabulist, My Old Kentucky, The Underrated Blog, wink, wink. So on the whole, I think blogs can be useful in getting out a lot of unheard music. But, what I like most about Fabulist in particular is that it is not all about music. I find the ones with variety to be the most entertaining and original.
Ben: To be honest, I wasn’t completely aware of the blog scene until they started writing about us. Ever since being exposed to them I have often been found in the computer lab in-between classes reading numerous blogs. This new hobby has put a large dent in my bank account, due to the plethora of CD’s I have purchased after reading recommendations and reviews of new albums.
Matt: I don't actively read blogs, but maybe someday soon.

While of course the blog world helps get relatively unknown bands out there to the masses, are you worried at all about being too hyped?
Jesse: Of course I am. I am scared about everything! Every step with this band is scary because you never know if it’s the right one. I am happy and grateful for the fact that blogs like us and want to talk about us but I am always scared that good press will motivate someone to write something really mean and scathing, which I assume will inevitably happen. But these things keep me up at night, questioning if the press is good and if the hype is the right kind and all of that stuff. I mean, if I was 56 years old and had made an avant gard folk album in the 60's I would feel pretty secure about all the press I was getting right now, but being 21, "naive" and making indie pop, its like taking a lamb to the slaughter...Actually one of the pubs we played at in London was called the slaughtered lamb, potential Irony?
Ben: Yes. I would rather exceed people’s expectations when they hear us then disappoint their high hopes.

What's next? Plans to tour?
Jesse: Well no tour plans of yet, we are all going to finish up our years but we have some shows interspersed between holidays and stuff. So we have one show this year December 28th at the Echo in Echo Park (Los Angeles) so every body come and tell your friends. We will be 8 or 9 strong and ready to rock in the new year early!
Ben: After we graduate in May, we are going to live together and start to put together a permanent full-lineup for the band. We want to focus on the Los Angeles area for at least a little while before going on tour. Plus Matt wants a dog, so we might have to take care of it for a few months before we abandon it on tour. I would love to play shows in NYC, when the timing is right.
Matt: We plan to finish school and then go back to LA and then try to make it on Broadway. Ben and I have been working on this soft-shoe routine for about three years. I think we have a lot of potential.

Check out Princeton at or

- Rachael Darmanin
- Breakthrough Radio


A Case of the Emperor's Clothes (mini LP)
Bloomsbury (EP)



Princeton is a Los Angeles-based quartet that released their second recording, the Bloomsbury EP, this past summer. The group lives in an aging green house on a hillside in the Eagle Rock district of LA where they hermetically pieced together the songs for Bloomsbury.

Each composition on the EP is lyrically focused upon a member of the influential Bloomsbury intellectual collective that existed in London during the early 20th century. Lyrical portraits of Leonard Woolf, Lytton Strachey, Virginia Woolf and John Maynard Keynes are each presented in a different musical framework with lush orchestral arrangements that draw from a collage of influences — Serge Gainsbourg's Gainsbourg Percussions, The Kinks' Something Else, Jorge Ben's Forca Bruta and Jean Claude Vannier's L'enfant La Mouche Et Les Allumettes to name a few. The record was mixed by Pete Weiss (Moe Tucker, Lee Ranaldo, Aimee Mann) and mastered by Jeff Lipton (The Magnetic Fields, Spoon, Jeff Tweedy/Wilco).

The band is comprised of twin brothers Jesse (Vocals, Guitar, Ukulele, Drums, Keyboards) and Matt Kivel (Vocals, Guitar, Bass, Keyboards), and Ben Usen (Piano, Harpsichord, Organ, Fender Rhodes). The Kivels met Ben at the age of five while attending elementary school in Los Angeles. Six years later they formed a tentative musical partnership after watching the 1996 Tom Hanks film "That Thing You Do!" A wide array of home recordings, live concerts and music video projects would follow with a constantly shifting cast of local collaborators.

Princeton was officially formed in 2005, during a year long academic stay in London that found the three young men reunited for the first time since parting ways for college. Due to the steep costs of shipping their instruments overseas, the group was forced to perform live with a very limited musical setup, but the often-harrowing conditions of their London shows forced them to mature and develop into a finely tuned live act. Each member reacted differently to the change in culture: Jesse found Virginia Woolf, Matt discovered John Cale's Paris 1919, while Ben pursued a short lived career in international finance. Despite their sparse musical resources, the band recorded and self-released a limited edition mini album entitled A Case of the Emperor's Clothes, which received high praise from a number of outlets including The Tripwire and My Old Kentucky Blog.

Graduation from college and a move back to Los Angeles in the summer of 2007 allowed Princeton to resume recording and performing full time.

Recently, Princeton has provided live support for The Fiery Furnaces, Vampire Weekend, Au Revoir Simone, The Ruby Suns, The Little Ones, Saturday Looks Good to Me, Le Loup, Ra Ra Riot, My Brightest Diamond and Grand Ole' Party.